I ran across this strange gem about two years ago reading up on distant cousins of the guitar in my quest for more knowledge about the cigar box guitar. One person describes a Tahiti Uke as “The Tahitian ukulele or banjo is an 8 string guitar usually measuring about 32″ long x 9.5″ wide x 1.75″ thick.”
Really these are about 10x easier to construct than a cigar box guitar – there’s only two pieces involved. The instrument is very simple, really. You have the body, which is one piece of wood consisting of the neck and body with a cone shaped cutout through the middle, the opening wider at the top, narrowing to a 2″ hole through the bottom. The other piece is a thin piece of wood (the soundboard) which rests on top of the cone shaped hole. Toss a piece of wood over the soundboard, and string ‘er up and you have a working instrument. Volia! Way easier than building a traditional uke.
Ok yes it is that easy, but for an instrument you expect to last several years a couple more steps need to be taken. I’ve just started construction of my own Tahitian Ukulele. On this episode of the New Southern Workshop, I’ll guide you through how to build your own Tahitian Ukulele. Click through for more below the cut…Ok, so probably the most simple thing you can do to increase the lifespan of any stringed instrument is to add support to the neck. This means adding a steel rod of some sort. Some people get all fancy and add double adjustable truss rods. We aren’t putting bass strings on this thing so that won’t be necessary. We just don’t want the neck to warp over time with tension on the neck. So figure out where the neck will be, trace around your metal rod (I used about 17″ of “fine threaded #10-32 x 36″ which cost me about $2.00 and cut it to length (eyeballed) in the hardware store with a jaws of life rather than buy a hacksaw)… anyways trace the rod onto the wood and go at it with a chisel. This shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to cut the trough if you’re careful, 5 if you’re sloppy. Double the time if you’re using a hardwood. I don’t recommend red oak it’s like chiseling stone.
I used two pieces of 1″x12″ 4 foot long clear pine. Well, mostly clear. The whole instrument should only be about 28″ long with a scale length (distance between the nut and bridge) of 13.5-19″. So just pick two pieces where the knots are at one end and cut that part off. I went with a 19″ scale length and made the whole thing a little closer to 32″ overall so I can convert it to a six string travel guitar down the road if I decide to go that route. The reinforcement rod/truss rod I installed earlier will help with that significantly. The wood I used has a natural red streak that runs through the middle of the body and up the neck.
Next up, spread the glue somewhat thin using a credit card, and clamp the two pieces in place. This laminates the wood together, resisting warp, and sandwiches the truss rod in the middle. I’ll update tomorrow with additional progress. Tomorrow should involve mounting the tuners, cutting and carving the neck, and carving the conical shaped hollow.
The inside hollow:
I guess what makes these particularly interesting instruments is that they’re a solid piece of wood with almost no fragile parts. You can safely pack one in any luggage and it’ll arrive at the other end intact and ready to play. Even better, it uses fishing line as guitar string, so a 500′ roll of the stuff should last you and the Uke factory a lifetime. It’s a very sturdy design, and if things got a little crazy at a gig, if it came to it, you could use it as a bludgeoning weapon and still play it afterwards. A true “axe”, so to speak.
Comparison pic. By laminating several pieces together you can make a fairly wide Uke out of pieces of cheap scrap wood instead of buying expensive knotless wood like I did. What truly shocks me is that people charge $300 for these things when they cost at most $80 to make (most of that is the 8 tuners!!). Some entrepenuer will realize with economy of scale, you can mass produce these for about what it costs to make a baseball bat and make these things the next big thing.